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The Silence of Jesus

Mark 15:1-5

1 And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.

2 And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto them, Thou sayest it.

3 And the chief priests accused him of many things: but he answered nothing.

4 And Pilate asked him again, saying, Answerest thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against thee.

5 But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled. 


The poet James Whitcomb Riley was once attacked verbally by a vile-tempered man, and someone asked how he responded to the man. He said, “I responded by hitting him with a great big chunk of silence.” 

One of the amazing things about Jesus is the masterful way in which he used silence—especially at his trial. If you have read the gospels recently, you will know that Jesus had not just one but three different trials. The first one took place on the night that he and his disciples had celebrated the Lord’s Supper. They were going from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus settled the matter of God’s will. While he was still there, the mob came and arrested him and hustled him off to the palace of the high priest where he was tried by part of the Sanhedrin for the crime of blasphemy against God. The events of that night had happened so quickly that the Sanhedrin had not been able to muster up all of their witnesses; instead they found some false witnesses who could not agree among themselves. As they made one charge after another against Jesus, he stood there without making any response and without making any effort to defend himself.

Finally the high priest turned to Jesus and asked, “Man, don’t you have anything to say for yourself? Don’t you have anything to say in your own defense?” The scriptures tell us that Jesus answered nothing. He stood there in dignified silence. He would not elevate their charges by making a response to them. The high priest made a surprise move. He put Jesus under oath. He said to him, “Are you the Son of the Blessed? Are you the Son of God?” He was forcing Jesus to incriminate himself.  

Jesus responded simply by saying, “I am.” With that reply, the high priest had all the evidence he needed, and he said to the group, “What think ye of Christ? What is your opinion about this man?” They began to shout—one and then another, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” and the high priest and the Sanhedrin were satisfied that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy against God. He had claimed to be the Son of God. 

That whole trial was illegal because it had been held in the middle of the night, and just part of the Sanhedrin was present. Early the next morning at dawn, as soon as possible, they quickly assembled the rest of the Sanhedrin and they simply confirmed what they had decided in the middle of the night. Jesus was guilty of blasphemy against God. That was one trial of Jesus. 

The Sanhedrin had declared Jesus guilty of blasphemy, but they could not put Jesus to death because they did not have the power of capital punishment. That belonged only to Rome. If Jesus was to be put to death, he had to be taken before Pilate the procurator—the governor of Judea—and Pilate would have to condemn him to death. Ordinarily Pilate resided in Caesarea, but this was the Passover season. In that season of the year, he always traveled down to Jerusalem just to maintain order. Nationalism among the Jews was always at a high pitch during the Passover season, and Pilate—along with some extra troops—needed to be there just in case there was some kind of uprising.  

As quickly as possible, the Sanhedrin took Jesus to Pilate for a second trial. They knew that the charge of blasphemy of which this man was guilty would be meaningless to Pilate. That was a religious issue. That was a religious squabble among the Jews. Pilate didn’t care about any of those things. If Pilate was to try him and if he was to condemn him to death, the charges must be far more serious than that. For that reason, somewhere in the process they changed the charges from blasphemy to sedition. They said to Pilate, “This man is creating an uproar among the people. He encourages the people not to pay taxes to Caesar. And he in fact claims that he is the king of the Jews.” If their charges had been true—if Jesus had been creating an uprising among the people and encouraging them not to pay taxes, if he was in fact claiming to be a rival king to Caesar, then it was an issue that Pilate would have to deal with. 

So we are told in the book of Mark that Pilate asks Jesus very plainly, “Art thou the king of the Jews?” Jesus responds very simply by saying, “Thou sayest it.” That generally is interpreted as an affirmation on the part of Jesus, understood as, “Yes I am the king of the Jews.” But John tells us that this is part of a larger conversation that took place between Jesus and Pilate. 

Mark, in his account of the life and the ministry of Jesus, does not spend a lot of time on some details. He just very quickly rushes through the story and feels some things are not important for him to tell us. However, other gospel writers fill in the details. This is one of those instances where John says that all of this is a part of a larger conversation where Jesus and Pilate converse privately about this matter of his kingship. According to John, in that conversation Jesus makes it very clear to Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world. He is not a rival to Caesar. He is not a threat to Rome. He seeks to capture the hearts and the minds of men. His is a spiritual kingdom. If that is true, Jesus’ answer to Pilate that day was, “Pilate, yes I am the king of the Jews, but you know very well what kind of king I am. I am in no way a threat to you, nor am I a threat to Rome.” 

With that, the religious leaders of the Sanhedrin begin to make other charges—first one and then another against Jesus. Once again as he had before the Sanhedrin, Jesus maintains a dignified silence. He doesn’t answer one word concerning their charges. Pilate seems to think that these are charges that can’t be left unanswered, so he says to Jesus, “Man, don’t you have anything to say for yourself? Isn’t there some word of self-defense that you would like to offer?”  

The scriptures say once again that in this second trial, for the second time, Jesus answers not a word. He just maintains that dignified silence, refusing to answer their charges. Somewhere in the conversation, somebody mentions that all of this started in Galilee. Jesus was a Galilean and all the movements started up there. Pilate remembered that Herod—who was the king in Galilee—was also down in Jerusalem for the Passover. Pilate saw this as an opportunity to push aside an issue that he didn’t want to deal with. So he decided that he would send Jesus to Herod. That would make for the third trial of Jesus. The Bible says that when Jesus was taken to Herod—as is recorded for us in the gospel of Luke—Herod was glad to see Jesus. Herod is the man who had put John the Baptist to death. Herod is the man who, when he had heard about the miracles and the preaching of Jesus, thought that perhaps John the Baptist had come back to life again. He had been scared out of his wits that maybe John was coming back to haunt him. Some time had passed since all of it had happened, and he had looked forward anxiously to one day hearing and seeing Jesus, and finally his chance had come. He was delighted that Jesus was in his presence. He thought maybe Jesus could work some miracle for him. Maybe Jesus could do some magical tricks to entertain him. Herod was not really interested in what Jesus had to say, and he was not trying to find out any truth about who Jesus was or what Jesus was about. He just wanted to be entertained. The scriptures say in the book of Luke that Herod asked Jesus many, many questions.

Once again, for the third time in this third trial, the scriptures say that Jesus answered him not a word. He maintained a dignified silence before Herod, just like he had done before Pilate and before the Sanhedrin. Jesus answered not a word. We are bound to ask ourselves the question, “Why the silence of Jesus? Why is it that the Great Debater is not willing to debate? Why is it that the Master of Controversy will not enter into controversy?”  

Yet there had been times when they came to Jesus with questions that obviously would have put him on the horns of a dilemma. They asked questions that would have backed him into a corner, and Jesus always came out of those debates and controversies the winner. He had a wisdom and an insight about him that made him the greatest of all debaters, but on this occasion during his trial, Jesus refused to enter into the controversy. He refused to debate. He refused to defend himself. Jesus answered them not one word.

Why the silence of Jesus? The answer is that Jesus knew it was no use. Jesus knew there was no reason to answer; nothing could be accomplished by an answer. The Sanhedrin had become so hardened and calloused against him that they were not interested in the truth. There was nothing that could change their minds. If their hearts and minds were so hardened and so stilled against the truth of God, why say anything? Because of the hardness of their hearts and the callousness of their minds, Jesus said nothing.  

Pilate on the other hand was a weakling—a moral and spiritual coward. Although he knew that it was out of envy and jealousy that the Jews had brought Jesus to him, and though having examined the evidence he knew that the man had done nothing worthy of death, he did not have the courage of his convictions. If the man had no courage to stand up for what he knew was right, why say anything to him? That too would be useless. It would be a waste of time and a waste of words. Jesus never wasted time and he never wasted words.  

If a man’s heart and mind are hardened and calloused against God so that they cannot be penetrated with the truth, the Lord will cease to speak to him. If a person is so weak and anemic in their spirit and in their condition that they would never decide to do right even if they knew right, then why would our Lord talk with him? Herod had no real interest in spiritual things. It was just a curiosity. He wanted to be entertained. He had such a shallow, flimsy, and superficial interest in Jesus that he was never going to do anything about his spiritual life or his relationship to God. Jesus—seeing how superficial he was, how shallow he was, and how insincere he was in his questioning—would not waste time answering him either. 

This all says to us—or at least it says to me—that there can come a time in our lives and in our experience when the Lord no longer speaks to us because he knows that it will not do any good. The silence of Jesus released several truths that I think we need to ponder.

1. Don’t spend your best time and energy trying to defend yourself.

The first truth that is so very evident in this experience is that we ought not to spend all our time or our best energy in life trying to defend ourselves. There are times when words are not our best defense. Deeds are. I think Jesus had come to that place in his life and ministry. He must have said to himself, “I preach to these people the Word of God. I have performed mighty miracles in their sight so that there can be no doubt that I am in touch with the power of God. If they will not believe my sermons, if they will not believe what they have seen with their very own eyes, then there is no need for further talk. And so I will just get on with doing what God sent me to do. I will give my life for them on the cross. And when they see me die, and when they see me raised from the dead, and when they see me ascend into heaven, then they shall know the answer to their questions.” 

He must have come to the decision that his best defense would be his deeds—to die for the sins of the world, to be raised on the third day, and to ascend into heaven, and then men would know. There are times when our deeds are our best defense. We do not need to always be trying to defend ourselves verbally. Our character, our life, and our conduct should do it. If we are the people of God as we ought to be, and if we have been true to him, we do not need to always be defending ourselves. We do, however, always need to be demonstrating our devoted relationship to God by living a life of sacrificial love for him and for our fellow man. 

Remember that time when John the Baptist sent a delegation to Jesus? John had boldly declared one time concerning Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Later, that busy activist—that prophet of God—was imprisoned. There in prison he began to think about his life and about Jesus, and question marks arose in his mind. “Is Jesus really the Son of God?” he wondered. So he sent a delegation to Jesus to ask him, “Are you the Messiah or should we look for another?” 

Jesus didn’t try to write a theological treatise to defend his messiahship. He didn’t send John a list of all the fulfilled prophecies of the Old Testament to prove that he was the Messiah. He said to John’s delegation, “Go back and tell John that the blind can see, the deaf ear, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the dead are raised. When John knows what I am doing, he will then know who I am.” 

There are times when our best defense is the deeds that we do. The silence of Jesus teaches us that we are not to devote all our energy and life to trying to defend ourselves. We just need to get on with the work that God has given us to do.  

We don’t have to always be defending our theology or our position on the Bible to one another or to the world. We just need to get on with doing what the Bible says. When the world sees that we love it, we preach it, and we minister to it—in the name of Jesus they shall know we are his. We don’t have to always be defending ourselves. 

2. The Lord can cease to speak to us.

There is a second truth, and it is this: there can come a time in our spiritual lives when the Lord ceases to speak to us. The time is when he knows that because of our attitude or disposition, his words will do no good. That has always been true.

He said to the people in the days of Noah, “My spirit will not always strive with man.” There came a time when God knew that he was wasting his time with a people who were in such rebellion against him that they would never listen, repent, nor change. The only answer was judgment. 

That happened in Noah’s day. He said through the prophet Hosea concerning Ephraim, “Ephraim has joined to idols, let him go.” Obviously the people of Ephraim had become so absorbed in idolatry that the Lord could see that there was no chance of Ephraim turning from that idolatry. He said, “Just let them go in their own idolatry and their own self-destruction. There is no use. Words and actions are to no avail.” 

Jesus sent out the 70 and he said, “You will go into certain cities and they will not receive you.” He didn’t say, “Stay there and beg them and plead with them and encourage them.” He said, “Shake the dust from your feet. Leave them behind.” Apparently there comes a time when our Lord says, “There is no need to talk any further. They will not listen, they will not be convinced; cease talking and start acting.”

3. The hardened and calloused need to hear.

There are three groups in particular that need to hear this warning. First, those who have become hardened and calloused against the voice of God and have steeled themselves against our Lord need that warning. The Sanhedrin are an example of that. Luke gives us an amplified version of this trial. They came to Jesus one time during the trial and they said to him very plainly, “Are you the Son of God? Tell us.” According to Luke, Jesus responded by saying, “If I told you, you would not believe me." 

If you ever get to that place in life where you will not believe the truth if you were told the truth, if you have so made up your mind that Jesus Christ is not the Son of God and that the Bible is not the Word of God, if you have so steeled yourself against the truth of God that you wouldn’t believe the truth if you saw it and heard it—then God might as well give up on you. The matter is settled already. That can happen to people.

How can we come to such a hardness and a callousness against God that he no longer speaks to us? It happens through a repeated rejection of God. It happened with the pharaoh of Egypt. Moses came on behalf of God saying, “Let my people go.” Pharaoh had warning after warning, and he rejected every one of them. He saw miracle after miracle that indicated that God was in this. He rejected the warnings and closed his eyes to the miracles of God, and finally he said to Moses, “Get out of here and don’t ever come back!” So Moses got out and he never went back.

The death angel then came, and when Pharaoh pursued Moses and the children of Israel, he and his whole army drowned in the Red Sea. The time for talking was over. The voice of God (backed by the miracles of God) that Pharaoh had so rejected and refused stopped talking. The time for judgment came.  

What happened to Pharaoh can happen to you. Be careful about repeatedly rejecting the call of God, the voice of God, and the convicting word of the Holy Spirit. The time will come when God may very well say, “The time for talking is over.” As Jesus was silent before the Sanhedrin, he may be silent to you.

4. The weak and cowardly need to hear.

Not only do the hard and the calloused need to take warning, but the weak and the cowardly—those like Pilate—need to take warning as well. Mark makes no bones about the fact that Pilate was a coward. He tells it very clearly. Pilate knew the motive behind the Sanhedrin’s action. He examined the evidence and he knew that there was no reason to put Jesus to death. Instead of being the voice of Rome and the voice of justice and truth, Pilate became the voice of the people. He echoed their sentiments, their wants, and their desires. Pilate was the kind of man who went along to get along. Regardless of what his heart told him, and regardless of the evident truth before him, he compromised his conviction. He yielded to the pressure and did what the people wanted, even though it was wrong.

If you so compromise your convictions that you are willing to go along to get along and you are willing to sell out our Lord for somebody or something else, the time may very well come when God says there is no need to talk to you either. It is a terrible thing to weaken and water down your convictions so that you will ultimately stand for nothing and fall for anything. 

There is in the book of Revelation an interesting passage of scripture. In this passage, heaven is described for us. We are told that in heaven there will be no sickness, no death, no tears, and no separation. The passage describes all those wonderful things that will be in heaven and the terrible things that will not be there.

Then, in verse 8 of the 21st chapter of the book of Revelation, it says, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”  

You read that list of those who will have their part in the lake of fire and brimstone—of those who will experience the second death. Everyone named there makes sense except one. We can understand why the unbelieving made the list. The abominable and the murders, the whoremongers, sorcerers, idolaters, and the liars—all of that makes sense. Note however, he starts off by saying, “the fearful.” What does he mean by that? It has reference to the moral cowards—to those who lack the courage of their convictions. If a person loses the courage of his conviction so that he will not stand up or step out for Jesus Christ, and if he continues in that way long enough, the time will come when he will have lost all moral and spiritual strength. In this condition, there would be no need that God should speak to him. He would be wasting his time. 

5. The shallow and superficial need to hear.

The final group in need of a warning includes the shallow and the superficial people like Herod, who want nothing more from the Lord than a show or a little entertainment. They are interested in religious things to tickle their minds and to occupy their time, but there is no real, deep sincere longing to know the truth. If you want to play games, don’t play games with God or with his word. He is not in the game-playing business. He is dead serious. When it comes to matters of life and death, and salvation and eternity, it is important that we not be in any way like Herod. He was interested only in questions and answers, miracles, entertainment, and names. 

When we seek the Lord, we must seek him with sincerity and truth, with our motive being to do that which is right. If we begin to tamper with our Lord in that kind of light and superficial way, we may come to that place where Herod found himself—where our Lord answered him not one word. It is a solemn truth of scripture that men can say “no” too long and too loud and become so hardened that the Lord no longer speaks to them. It happened to the Sanhedrin. It happened to Pilate. It happened to Herod. Don’t let it happen to you. 

The scriptures say in the book of Hebrews, “Wherefore the holy ghost sayeth today if you hear his voice hardened not your heart.” Has God through the Holy Spirit been speaking to you? Has he been calling you to repentance? Has he been calling you to faith, to commitment to the Lord Jesus and his church?  

Have you repeatedly rejected or resisted that call? Have you not had the courage to stand up for what you know is right? Have you not been willing to make that deep heart commitment that is so essential for every one of us?

Today, if you hear his voice, it is not too late, and you can trust him. You can follow him. You can believe in him today. My appeal is the appeal of scripture: “Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your heart.” 

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Paul W. Powell - www.PaulPowellLibrary.com

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